Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Tufts

File under "humble subject matter." One of art's tasks in our time is to reveal beauty in the mundane, to raise the commonplace to the level of the extraordinary. 

I've been struck by the beauty that painters through the ages have wrung from the humble tuft of weedy grass. Once again the lesson is that subject matter may easily be the least important aspect of painting. These paintings portray bits of leaf and stem that people pass hundreds of times without noticing. Art such as this helps to remind us that anything can become the basis for amazing, meaningful art if only it's seen for its expressive potential. 

Here are some anonymous tufts of grass and bracken, a few bare, weedy shoots and branches to remind us that yes, spring really is going to come eventually.

Don't be fooled by the run-of-the-mill plant life in these! These works repay careful consideration and can tell us a lot about design work, compositional choices, the application of the paint, and the evocation of mood, even given the most unremarkable starting-places. Here is proof that the poetic and the sublime need not depend on grandiose or dramatic subject matter.

It ain't what you paint; it's how you see it.

The first three are by contemporary Philly painter Alex Kanevsky. Sorry about the lack of titles- I hope to clothe the naked paintings in them later.




These four are by Leon Bonvin (French, 1834-1866), whom I am tempted to crown "King and Master of the Tuft."









One of the first western artists to elevate the tuft to the level of immortal representation is probably Leonardo, but here's a beautifully realized work by Albrecht Durer to look at instead.

Albrecht Durer, The Large Piece of Turf, 1503
Look how Ivan Shishkin can pull beauty out of the weeds!

Ivan Shishkin

Here'sa typical zen style painting of seemingly random bamboo shoots by Araki Jippo (1872-1944).


Bamboo Shoots, Araki Jippo (1872-1944)


Dennis Miller Bunker gets a shoutout not for painting individual pieces of turf so much as for helping to initiate the painterly attitude toward ordinary scenery still celebrated among plein air painters today.
Dennis Miller Bunker, The Pool, Medfield, 1889

And to bring it back around to the contemporary, I leave you with this one is by Robert Baart and an invitation to participate by drawing my attention to your own favorite paintings of the most commonplace little clumps of natural beauty.

Robert Baart, Water Sedge

21 comments:

  1. good post for the coming of spring... now if it just weren't 16 degrees out!

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  2. Thank you, Chris. I like and appreciate that you're not afraid to discuss the importance of beauty in art. There's a high-falutin' school of thought that says, "Pshaw. Beauty is for the proletariat. We here in the upper eschelons know that truly great art is meant to shock us and shake us up. Leave the beauty to the naive dreamers." For me, it is the opposite. In this too-fast-paced world where technology is Master, we are losing our sight of and sense of connection to the world around us. Artists have an essential purpose in society now more than ever, I think, for they're the ones who can stop us in our tracks, make us slow down and see the beauty, even in (or, perhaps, especially in) the seemingly mundane. Hmmmm. Maybe I need to write a blog post, too.... Thanks for getting the wheels turning, as always.

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    1. Thank YOU Dawn for your thoughtful reply. If you do blog about the uses of beauty in an increasingly fragmented culture (and I think you should), let me know so I can post a link.

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    2. Well, it only took me almost two months, but I'm happy to say I finally have a blog and a post (the first of what will probably be many posts) about this subject. http://www.dawnboyer.com/beauty-in-the-mundane/

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  3. How wonderful to see such beautiful examples of the simple subjects that can be contemplated! So often we are looking for the grand, the amazing or the spectacular...which often means large - very thought provoking blog!

    cheers, LInda

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  4. Thanks for the blog. I too value the pursuit of capturing beauty in the mundane, or rather of trying to portray it. Painting tufts of grass seems a perfectly valid fit for this ideal. I have little room for art as 'shock value'. I find that approach dull and not in any way life affirming. I love the Durer you posted here!

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    1. Sorry, rude of me. I am 'Unknown' above.
      Derek

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    2. Thanks Derek. The Durer really is something, eh? Here's a guy basically flexing representational art's newfound muscles, and yet the work itself is anything but cold and clinical. His rabbit is amazing too, for reasons I find just as mysterious!

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    3. I was only really aware of his portraiture work previously. I'd never seen the turf nor the hare before. Clearly a talented man with a keen sensitivity. Ok, I should put the keyboard down now and pick up the brushes ... :-)

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  5. Durer's little turf is one of my all time favorites!! Great topic Chris. I think you will appreciate this link takes you to a lovely vignette by Deborah Paris, Spring Bouquet .
    http://deborahparis-apaintinglife.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Jamie! I know Deborah's work well, and you're right I love that "bouquet" of hers- thanks!

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  6. Another Durer fan from way back (although not his contemporary ;-) !) Thanks for the other examples.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Ha! And for a minute there Dana I thought it was the ghost of one of old Al's apprentices posting on my blog! ;-)

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